Is Your Stress Causing TMJ?

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Imagine falling asleep in your bed. It’s one in the morning and you’re nervous about your impending exam. Your jaw tightens. The anxiety builds up. The next morning your jaw is sore, and it hurts a bit to chew your breakfast.

What happened?

This could be the beginning of TMJ, or Temporomandibular Disorder. TMJ causes pain in the lower jaw area, which affects daily functions like chewing or talking. Other symptoms include pain when yawning, an uncomfortable bite, clicking or popping noises when you chew, and a “locked jaw.”

But don’t be alarmed – it’s actually more common than you think. More than 10 million Americans have TMJ, although it is seen more in women. It can caused by a variety of things. The most frequent are usually bad habits, but injuries and musculoskeletal imbalances can also take a toll. Bad habits can be the result of stress, anxiety and other negative emotions which cause your jaw to tighten, or clench.

Many people can deal with minimal pain without ever needing to go to the doctor. If your jaw is bothering you and it hurts to do certain things like eating or talking, there are a few things you could do to relieve the tension without going to a doctor. Now, I’m not a specialist. I’m only speaking from my personal experiences and what my own jaw specialist has told me.

Some of these things may not work for you, but if your pain is bothering you, give these a try:

  1. Try to train your jaw not to clench up when you’re relaxing. It may have become a bad habit, so try to retrain yourself not to do it. Clenching can wear your teeth down, and cause pain in your jaw.
  2. Apply moist heat. Take a washcloth, rinse it under hot water and put it on the sore spot. This is meant to soothe the tight muscles in your jaw.
  3. Take some muscles relaxants or anti-inflammatory medicine. Sometimes the muscles in your jaw are over-worked and sore, just like when you work out too much and you’re weak.

Hopefully, this gives you a brief idea of what TMJ is and how to relieve pain.

I know from being in college that there is a lot of stress and anxiety going, but make sure you put your health first.

Photo credit: Maria Heredia Reyes 



Hannah Borriello, born and raised in Rochester, NY, is a sophmore at Nazareth College. She is in the process of getting two degrees in communications and media and German. This fall, she plans on studying abroad in Berlin, and also completing an internship (she must like Europe or something). When Hannah is not reading textbook after textbook, she enjoys writing and directing short films. If she’s not doing either of those things, there is a calculated 98.7% chance she is scrolling on Tumblr.


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